Asia, Vietnam

Asia Day 6: HCMC

Photo of the day: Avocado + coconut smoothie @ Five Boy Number One. Photo credit: Aaron.

Moving day! First, I joined Aaron on one of his quick morning workouts because I haven’t really had a workout routine since the beginning of this trip. Because we knew things would be hectic in the morning packing and getting ready to move to our next Airbnb, we decided to just grab smoothie at the smoothie stall I mentioned previously – Five Boy Number One. The alley way it was in had signs everywhere with chairs set up on the side of the alley. We would not have been able to locate the actual stand if it wasn’t for our friendly Airbnb manager/neighbour. Aaron and I took some time with the menu and finally decided on the avocado + coconut and mango + strawberries smoothies. I was a little regretful after choosing the mango + strawberries combo since this is something I could get at Orange Julius or Booster Juice back home. On the other hand, this enabled me to compare it more easily. First sip thoughts – nothing like Orange Julius or Booster Juice. It had the rich taste of real fruits with actual fruit pieces on top. It does not taste sugary or artificial but it was not sour at all. I then took a sip of Aaron’s smoothie. It was a creamy explosion in my mouth! I love avocado and combined with the coconut, it was super smooth and rich. It was super filling though as their serving size was quite large. As much as I loved mine, as soon as I’ve had the avocado one, there was no turning back. My drink was not as shockingly delicious anymore. I regret not coming here sooner and only decided to get smoothie on my last day in this area of town. It was literally down the alley of our Airbnb! I’ve vowed to make a few more trips to this area just to get smoothies from this stall again.

Enjoying some smoothies in a alley @ Five Boy Number One
Enjoying some smoothies in an alley @ Five Boy Number One
This man is super talented, cutting up all those passion fruits (in preparation for smoothies to be sold throughout the day) in no time. @ Five Boy Number One
This man is super talented, cutting up all those passion fruits (in preparation for smoothies to be sold throughout the day) in no time. @ Five Boy Number One. Photo credit: Aaron.


The rest of the morning was spent packing and getting ready to move. Right before we were going to head out, my cousin made a surprise visit to give us some durian! Apparently, there is a cart/truck that drives by his place regularly selling durian so he picked some up for us. We have reached our check out time, so we brought this strongly-scented gift to our next Airbnb, fearing that they would not let us check in but all was well. This new Airbnb contrasted quite a bit from our previous one. Our first dwelling was a 3-story renovated unit. The surrounding units were all very run down and inhabited by locals. It was very nicely designed to give it a more modern look with lots of character, but some of the “older” elements of housing remains, since as the wet bathroom and super narrow staircase. Our new Airbnb was more like an upscale hostel in with an inviting reception area. Seeing “Welcome Aaron!” on the chalkboard was a nice touch! Our hosts were super nice and friendly and they were expecting us even though we were checking-in early. Even though, we only had one room vs. one whole house to ourselves, I felt a nice sense of comfort given the place looked very clean, almost like nice boutique hotel. They created a nice sense of community with the commons spaces such as the rooftop terrace and kitchen/working area. We met another couple who was enjoying some downtime, wine and cheese on the terrace just enjoying themselves in this crazy, hectic city.

All this moving has gotten us hungry so we head off to get some lunch at Bun Thit Nuong Chi Thong – apparently a popular Bun Thit Nuong (vermicelli with grilled pork) place. I ordered 2 bowls of Bun Thit Nuong, seeing as this was their specialty. Instead, I was convinced to get the mixed noodles bowl with Cha Gio and beef as well. The food came within a few seconds of ordering. The speed of service here never fails to amaze me. Presented in front of us was a bed of herbs topped with vermicelli all topped with spring rolls, grilled pork, beef slices, pickled carrots and radishes as well as scallions and peanuts. Of course, we mixed our own Nuoc Mam and poured that in with everything before we took our first bite. This was Aaron’s favourite Vietnamese dish and he was having a ball. The Cha Gio was crispy, the pork was perfectly seasons and the beef was nice and tender. He was tempted to order another bowl even though the serving sizes are pretty generous. Personally, I do not like the taste of strong basil, so I wish there was some way to customize that part. Overall, great meal but the Banh Xeo from yesterday still has my #1 vote. Aaron has found his new love and made me promise to come back here again another day so he can have his second bowl of this.

Mixed noodles @ Bun Thit Nuong Chi Thong
Mixed noodles @ Bun Thit Nuong Chi Thong. Photo credit: Aaron.
The chilli @ Bun Thit Nuong Chi Thong. Photo credit: Aaron.
The chilli @ Bun Thit Nuong Chi Thong. Photo credit: Aaron.

We then went to a nearby cafe called FYI Book Cafe to do some work. The concept was interesting. It was a cafe with books you can pick up to read while you’re enjoying your drink. Per Foursquare, it was supposed to be a nice place with comfortable chairs, good wifi and a quiet environment for reading and working. It was on a side street away from the hustle and bustle and gave me a sense of serenity just like Sunny Hills in HK did. This moment was short lived as a creepy man sat across from me and kept staring at me and was talking super loudly with his friend. I decided to move away, which allowed me to avoid the creepy stares but this did not stop his resonating voice from travelling across the room. This was unfortunate as I quite enjoyed this cafe. I even picked up some travel books to do some research as I was blogging

Next we headed to the Bitexco Financial Tower, which I kept calling the Brexit tower as on quick glance, that is what I read. We read that it made more sense to go upstairs to the cafe to enjoy some drinks while enjoying the view vs. paying just to go up the tower to see the view. We were guided up to the 50th floor, who housed their cafe, but instead, they advised us to go up to the 52th floor where there is live music and a bar. Once we were up, it was quite apparent that this was meant for tourists with pricey drinks and live English music. We still enjoyed ourselves chatting with some friends who happened to also be travelling in Vietnam at this time. We were too busy chatting that I did not really get to enjoy the view but the few glances of it was quite spectacular, especially as the sun started to set.

View from Bitexco Tower
View from Bitexco Tower

For dinner, we went to Co Lien Bo La Lot. It as a small, older place, full of locals, so I was already convinced it would be good. We, of course, had to order their Bo La Lot (beef wrapped in betel leaves). It was also suggested we get the Nem Nuong (grilled pork), so we got one of each. Each order consisted of a plate of meat as well as some lettuce, herb, vermicelli, pickled vegetables and rice paper. We must have looked very confused when all the food arrived because the server gave us a quick demonstration on how to eat this. First you place the rice paper down, line it with some vegetables and vermicelli, then finally some meat. You would roll this up then dip it in a sauce they provided. How did it taste? Amazing! I was worried that the rice paper was unsoaked and hard but this quickly soften with the addition of all the ingredients and dipped into the sauce. I think the most important parts of the flavour was from the meat and the sauce. The vegetables and vermicelli accompanied those well to make sure it wasn’t too salty. The herbs, in this case, was not too overwhelming so I appreciated that. We quickly went through our order and had to order another round of meat – one of each. I give this dish and this restaurant an A+, enough for me to ditch the “boil it, peel it, or forget it” rule. It just wouldn’t be the same without the refreshing raw vegetables. Please forgive me, gut.

Bo La Lot @ Co Lien Bo La Lot
Bo La Lot (as the server is showing us the drinks menu) @ Co Lien Bo La Lot

It was still early so we decided to take a stroll along Nguyen Hue after we said goodbye to our friends. I heard that this walkway is nicer in the evening so I really wanted to return to see it. The street was of course very busy but nicely so. The walkway is the widest I’ve seen in the whole city. It was not taken over by parked motorbikes or motorbikes weaving in to bypass the traffic on the roads. I was able to walk comfortably without fear of being hit. We walked all the way down the waterfront and was underwhelmed as bright advertisements ruin the view. We walked back along the walkway enjoying the bright lights and the crowds in the middle square. We decided to grab some tea in one of the buildings overlooking this street. Once inside the building, we realize there was an “elevator fee” to take the elevator up. On the sign it said that the “building’s investors” do not own this elevator. My first thought is then who does and what stops someone from just randomly standing at the bottom of an elevator, putting a sign up and collecting money? Despite my skepticism, I paid the 6000 VND (~$0.35 CND) for us both to use the elevator. Aaron wanted to check out OrienTea but apparently they were full so we decided to go to Partea instead, as one of the Travel/food vloggers I follow, Mina Oh, was previously here and it looked quite nice. It was a very cute English-styled tea house. First, we were asked to pick the tea, then our own tea cup and coaster set. We then sat down and within a few minutes, our tea pot arrived placed on top of a base with a candle inside to keep the tea warm. We were also given a cute sand timer for tea as well as some milk and sugar. They Also provided us with a strainer to place on top of our cup as we poured the tea over it. The timer was great except for the fact that there was no way to remove the tea from the pot so it kept steeping even as the timer is done. We got a seat at the window as the seats outside overlooking the city were all occupied. It was provided a nice atmosphere to just sit back, relax and have a nice chat, juxtaposing the busy street it was overlooking.

Tea sets @ Partea
Tea sets @ Partea
Enjoying some tea while overlooking the busy Nguyen Hue Walkway @ Partea
Enjoying some tea while overlooking the busy Nguyen Hue Walkway @ Partea

We enjoyed the views of the glamorously-clad opera singers at the Saigon Opera House as well as the gorgeous city hall, then headed home. It wasn’t until then that I suddenly was feeling the full effects of this morning’s workout and wasn’t able to move another muscle. As much as I thought I haven’t been exercising much, we have actually been walking ~10km each day, so hopefully that is helping to counteract all the delicious food we are consuming!

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